Feeling unappreciated? Taken for granted? Happiness and the desire for praise, appreciation, and gold stars.

One of my most challenging resolutions has been my resolution, “Don’t expect praise or appreciation.” I crave praise and appreciation; I really want to win my gold stars.

Since I’ve tried to give up those gold stars, however, I’ve come to understand how much this desire was costing me.

I recognized that I was prone to quick bursts of anger and resentment. Only recently, however, have I understood that a major source of this irritability is my belief that I deserve to be praised and appreciated for what I do.

When I don’t get that praise, I feel furious and hurt. I feel ignored and taken for granted.

To try to combat this expectation, I keep reminding myself of a line from one of my favorite happiness works, St. Therese of Lisieux’s memoir, Story of a Soul. St. Therese wrote, “When one loves, one does not calculate.”

That’s why I added “No calculation” to my Twelve Commandments (see left column). I don’t want to keep score, I don’t want to feel grudging, I don’t want to feel cheated if I don’t get a gold star stuck to the top of my spelling homework. I want to act out of love, without calculation.

I used to have a self-congratulatory habit, when I did something nice for our household, of telling myself, “I’m doing this for the Big Man,” or “I’m doing this for the team.” Like I was so generous and thoughtful and giving. Then I’d be angry if no one oohed and aahed over what I’d done.

Now, however, I tell myself, “I’m doing this for myself. This is what I want.” I want to send out Valentine’s cards. I want to clean out the kitchen cabinets. I want to make homemade Mother’s Day presents.

This sounds selfish, but in fact, it’s less selfish, because it means I don’t expect praise or appreciation from anyone else. No one else even has to notice what I’ve done.

I’ve also started giving myself more gold stars. I allow myself to revel in my accomplishments and pat myself on the back. “Wow, you really resisted eating that chocolate-chip cookie batter, great job, Gretchen!” “Zoikes, look at how nice and tidy the girls’ rooms look, you really worked hard!” It’s silly, but it actually works.

I don’t think I will ever be able to relinquish my desire for gold stars. It’s part of my personality. It’s probably a major motivator behind my actions. But I want to be able to harness that characteristic, instead of letting disappointment and resentment sour my relationships.

It’s funny — as a result of my happiness-project work, I’ve been talking more about the gold-star issue with the Big Man, and now that I can discuss it in a more humorous way, by saying, “Please give me my gold star,” instead of being demanding and grasping and enraged, he’s been better about saying, “Thank you for doing that, Gretchen.” He says it in kind of a joking way, but still, I eat it up.

I love anything to do with de-cluttering, so my new favorite blog to visit is Unclutterer. Every time I read it, I get fired up to tackle some unsuspecting closet or shelf.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Cara

    Oh my goodness, Gretchen, major light bulb moment for me! I’ve dealt with the resentment issue for many years, thinking that it was my husband’s job to make me feel appreciated when it was MY job all along! It’s counterintuitive to give yourself gold stars, isn’t it? My husband has told me more than once not to do stuff “just for him” if it’s going to make me resentful about it, but your post drove home the “why” behind what I was doing and, more importantly, how to fix it. Thank you!

  • Megan

    You are pursuing important work Gretchen. “No Calculation” is a worthy No.11. It takes guts to adhere to this commandment. I have not generally been a gold star seeker UNLESS someone gets a gold star for something I did, they didn’t, and didn’t correct the omission. So does that make me a gold star seeker after all? Probably does, deep down.
    Also, I’ve been thinking about WHY cleaning out our closets (or decluttering generally) makes us happy (cf previous post). I wonder does that act release endorphins the same way chocolate does? Then I ask…how long does the effect last? When I eat chocolate I feel a momentary pleasure. Everytime I look at my well-ordered closet I get a boost, without the calories. BUT, and this is the kicker – once the de-cluttering becomes a ROUTINE I need to follow I feel that the returns(ie the happiness) diminish. SO, it works best for me if the decluttering is a seasonal or spontaneous thing.

  • Gretchen, I can totally relate to what you are writing about. Not long ago… I made a deal with myself: Each morning upon awaking, to thank the universe for the day before me as well as the opportunity to serve and love my family. It is working! I feel a letting go of the need to be acknowledged. The great irony is that as I let go of the expectation and want, I find myself being acknowledged by my family members.

  • I was just thinking this a few hours ago! I was craving sugar but resisted the urge to buy some Starbursts. Sniff, I’m so proud of me!

  • I so enjoy your blog and find the concept of your experiment fascinating. This is something that I realised and started doing a couple of years ago and the difference it has made to me has been immeasurable. I used to do lot’s of things for other people hoping to get back praise or to have my good deeds reciprocated. After many disappointments and ‘woe is me’ journal entries I came to the realisation that if I feel I need something in my life I need to give it to myself. I’ve had a few stumbles but the more I do it the easier it becomes and I think it has made me a better partner, a better mother and a more relaxing person to be with.
    Thx for sharing your ‘year of happiness’ in such a public forum. I particularly appreciate the elements of personal and social responsibility. I think they are powerful and enduring paths to happiness and that they don’t get as much airplay as they deserve.

  • Justin

    I read this installment of your journal and felt a little sad. It seems that you spent a lot of effort trying to change who you were and ultimately you came to understand that happiness isn’t about changing who you are, but accepting who you are, warts and all, and learning to live with them. Bravo for that realization, but I just imagine the silent agony that both you and the people around you had to endure.
    Ultimately I agree, it is your responsibility to feel rewarded for the things you do, however it is not wrong to expect appreciation from the people around you for the things you do. The only caveat to that sentiment is the other people have to know what part they play in this little drama. It is my belief that it is human nature to take things for granted; it’s how we adapt to situations. It is not, however, easy to tell that we are doing it… especially from the inside. That is where the communication comes in.
    My current relationship was started with this premise in mind: “Let me know when I’m taking you for granted and I’ll do the same.” This statement accurately implies a shared responsibility for each others happiness and opens the door for communication about it.
    I find that it helps a little more on those days I can’t seem to find my own gold star.

  • Gretchen, this reminded me of the book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn. (I’m just buying my third copy; my loans of the prior two never made it back to me.) It might be something you’d like to read, if you haven’t already.

  • What a stunning post…it`s so amazing to read this…I just went through this same thing and it is as if this post is a sigh to me…a gold star to me that I`ve done it right…thanks for posting…lovely blog!!!

  • I’ve turned my desire for praise into what I do for work. By helping others in a volunteer fashion (I’m traveling and working for room and board in Spain – http://www.helpx.net) I get lots of work done for others, don’t get paid for it, but know that I’m really helping and soak up the appreciation from others.
    But I find I don’t actually expect the appreciation. I’m totally content knowing that I’m doing things I enjoy in a place I love.

  • Thanks for this post Gretchen, it’s insightful and true. This is the kind of stuff I read your blog for.
    *gold star* 😉

  • * * * * * in gold of course.
    I love what you write, every day, even when I don’ take the time to comment. thank you for doing this Gretchen!

  • My goodness, thanks for all the gold stars! You KNOW how much I do want them. It’s good to hear that many people have the same craving — and came to similar conclusions — that by trying to give yourself the stars, and not expect them from other people — you feel more satisfied and also, somehow, people often get better about giving them.
    I’ve thought a lot about “being taken for granted.” Really, that’s the highest compliment of all. It means that those around you are utterly confident in you, that they have no doubts. I’m trying to be much better about recognizing the folks I’m taking for granted — and also to see that if I’m being taken for granted, that’s a gold star itself.
    A book with the subtitle “The Trouble with Gold Stars”?!! I’m off to order it right this minute…

  • Helen

    Imagine how our soldiers & vets feel… how often do they get the gold stars?

  • KCCC

    I so understand the “gold star” mentality.
    My husband and I jokingly show off accomplishments to each other and say “here’s where you ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’!” (Like, over the cleaned-out cabinets.) And the spouse who is the audience obliges, usually with great drama.
    It’s a silly family thing, but it acknowledges our need to be appreciated and makes light of it at the same time. And somehow makes it easier for us to “ask for what we need” from one other in a variety of areas.
    Good for you for being able to give yourself what you need. That’s major growth – and something I keep re-learning. (Have you ever noticed that you seem to re-learn the really important things over and over, kind of at a higher level each time?)

  • I also don’t think I could ever stop wanting gold stars. It just feels so good to get them!!

  • Gretchen, I really needed to read this. No greater flaw exists on my side of the marriage than this one – I need my gold stars. My wife isn’t very observant and doesn’t communicate well, especially about things that seem obvious to her. She’s tired and overworked and busy with the kids when she comes home. Imagine who gets their feelings hurt all the time when my amazing labors go unrewarded with notice. How selfish of me. How cruel of me to expect such attention from her. Shouldn’t I be doing nice things because they simply need to be done or ust because I’m nice?
    What funny is that I don’t really like gushing compliments. They embarrass me. But to use your analogy, I just want a tiny gold star. Not a big one. Just a tiny one. The tiniest micromoment of appreciation is all I crave, but I do crave it. You put into words something that has been troubling me for years. Well done and thank you.
    I’m going out tonight to buy myself some gold stars. I’ll stick them in my journal in private, but it’ll be humorous way to reward myself instead of demanding it from my wife.
    Here’s a gold star for you: http://www1.istockphoto.com/file_thumbview_approve/1803807/2/istockphoto_1803807_gold_star_2.jpg
    The Splintered Mind (http://thesplinteredmind.blogspot.com) – Overcoming Neurological Disabilities With Lots Of Humor And Attitude

  • Fantastic post! It takes years, sometimes a lifetime, for people to realize that they needn’t get their “gold stars” from other people. They’re much shinier when you give them to yourself anyway!

  • Gretchen, I think you’ve been living in my back pocket. My desire and need for recognition has caused me countless problems in my job. As a manager I give praise and thank you’s to the people I manage all day. However, I felt like my boss withheld the same from me while redoubling my efforts to praise the staff that I supervise. Now I realize that while he does praise me and thank me, it bothers me to see him notice a very small thing they do because he overlooks so many things I do or just assumes it would be done and be done well. I think some of us are wells that can never be filled, so I’m going to keep your story in mind and maybe it will help. My boss gave me the best compliment he could the other day, “I trust you and I want you to run my practice.” I almost let that biggie go unnoticed because he didn’t say he liked the product display I set up. So, you’re right, look inward. I’ll keep reading now that I know about you.

  • IndyGuy

    Thank you SO much! This is exactly how I’m feeling in my relationship. I always feel that I do so much for my partner and our household and get absolutely no appreciation for it.
    Will certainly take your advice and start doing those things for ME and will be happier when I don’t expect to get the praise for all of the things I do for him and his 2 kids.

  • Karin

    I have always seeked out gold stars and have received them, partly because I have let it be known that I need them. Now that I am married with a new 8 month old, everything goes unnoticed. I think it goes unnoticed because my husband is too lazy to do anything so even if I pick up all day, the place still looks like crap. He is holding me back from the gold star even I can give myself. I feel unappreciated, overworked, and not cared for. I can’t function anymore. I am on the verge of a meltdown.

  • Ellen

    Just came across your Happiness Project today. I AM A GOLD STAR PERSON! Very insightful and helpful. I will be visiting often! Thank you!

  • Liz

    Wow – I googled “feeling unappreciated” and I came across your site…I was sitting here mad as hell because my co-workers didn’t do anything for my birthday. No card, no cake, no nothin’. Of course, I’m usually the one to organize these things for everyone else – so if I dont do it- I guess no one else will…
    But the quote from St. Therese gave me pause. “when one loves, one does not calculate”… I need to stop calculating and stop expecting everyone to stop what they are doing and give me a standing ovation for what I’ve done.
    Thank you, Gretchen. I appreciate your help more than you know.

  • Jen

    I also Googled ‘feeling unappreciated’ and was given your website. I feel as if I’m doing everything for naught. I dont want a gold star, I would like constructive negative criticism to at least let me know that someone has take the time to notice what I did, albeit wrong. I work at home without co-worker interaction and live in a small neighborhood with residents who do not fulfill what I need in friendships. I’ve pretty much given up finding appreciation anywhere except with my husband and we tend to forget one another, equally. I cant figure out where the lightbulb is lest have a moment with one.

  • Suzie

    I, too, googled feeling unappreciated at work. As a perfectionist and people pleaser, I’m a sucker for a gold star…and like many here…don’t want the uncomfortable display of gushy praise, but a thank you, a “I realize that took time” would mean the world.
    I’ve conditioned people to be used to me being cheery, doing special things for others and giving 110% of quality work all the time, that I feel trapped. If I try to do less, people will ask if everything is ok with me. Yet, I feel a bit like an odd duck with others….that somehow I’m trying harder, not as much fun, too serious and too focused on doing a good job. Yet, if I don’t do what they’re used to, something IS wrong with me.
    I can’t picture myself at this point being ok with just giving my all for me and not expecting something….but I’m willing to try so I don’t feel like I did today when I came home from work after a disappointing meeting. I’m feeling a lot more anger and frustration and didn’t realize where it was coming from until I found your blog.
    Thanks everyone..stars all around for great postings…

    • Deb C,

      Wow – I know you wrote this 3 years ago – but I was just perusing Gretchen’s blog and this could have been written by me.  I am where you were back then – any update on how you are doing?  I am just coming to the self-realization that I am a perfectionist and people pleaser as well, and have the same problem with the cheery mood and smiling – if I’m not, something is wrong with me!  I just want to learn how to manage my frustrations and disappointmnet – it is hurting me.

  • Deb K.

    I just came across your site because I googled “wife feels unappreciated and taken for granted.” Your points are very well taken! I am excited for the book to come out. Speaking of gold stars, have you ever heard of the Alfie Kohn book, “Punished by Rewards: The problem with gold stars …”? He talks about our society being one that is somewhat addicted to rewards and praise (“gold stars”) — it’s a really interesting point on WHY we get stuck on needing praise and acknowledgment. It has been a HUGE eye opener for me.

  • ariel

    Great way to not feel victimized while allowing the world to walk all over you.
    I can understand not feeling like you need praise and appreciate for everything but most people do have the desire to feel appreciated.
    Also, what about mates that don’t participate in planning and drop everything on you? Okay, I can say “I like planning for the baby” and this is true but I don’t like planning for the baby or the party or the yard or whatever to the exclusion of everything else while others aren’t doing anything.
    I love to play golf but lately I have been planning for our child instead. If my hubs would take some burden off of me perhaps I would have both.
    I don’t buy into this “I want to do this” because all we are doing is brainwashing ourselves to believe that we want to do what has been dumped on us.

  • Maria

    I recently got divorced. I live with my fiance and his two children. They never say thank you for anything that I do for them. It makes me feel unappreciated and demotivated. Please mail me some thoughts, I feel so lonely and. yes, unappreciated.

  • Justin

    I feel very unappreciated at home. I work full time and take care of the majority of the housework. Just this week I helped a friend with a project before work…went to the grocery store that same day…and still had to work a 3 to 11 shift. I buy meat in the big family packs and we split it up into freezer bags. She said that she would take care of it since I barely had time before work. I came home that night and it wasn’t done. So, I took care of it while getting our lunch ready for the next day. Today I did the dishes, took care of lunch at the same time, ate..relaxed for 20 minutes than got up, put leftovers in the fridge, did our lunch dishes and asked a favor of my girlfriend. She said “NO” in quite the tone and I asked why the attitude and she replied “I can’t even believe you would ask me that”. It was a simple favor. It wasn’t like I asked her to run 20 errands before work.
    She’s works full time and is a fitness instructor as well, and she does every event, class, fundraiser related to it. I can’t remember the last time we had sex. She either doesn’t have time or is too tired. I can’t even remember the last time she said thank you. Well, I better hurry up and get off of here. I still have to get ready for work, get the dog taken out and make a stop all before three.

    I don’t expect praise or adoration. She always focuses on what I didn’t do and not what I did do. And if I don’t feel like doing anything that day…then so be it. I’m busy as well. I may not teach fitness classes, but I have hobbies too.

    • doobie do

      At first I thought someone was writing about my life, so I guess I am not the only one going through this. Totally frustrating but I try everyday to start again.

    • Been there

      You wasting your time with this child. You are dealing with a narcissist and they do not change. Leave, move on until you find someone who is appreciative and grateful. Otherwise, you will face decades of misery.

  • Nena


  • Patricia Baker

    I would be interested to know how many people get here by searching feeling unappreciated. I am the mom/step-mom to 6 boys, 4 of which are teenagers. I get up at 6:30 to make breakfast for them every morning, I then drive the 5yr old to school. I come home and start work while watching, feeding and changing the 21 month old (I am a software QA engineer). A load of laundry, 4 diapers, 4 sippy cups, and 3 conference calls later, I pick up the 5yr old and help him with his homework, make his lunch for the next day, herd the teenagers into doing their homework, make dinner (no takeout), then I check work emails again, get the 5yr old and the baby into baths and pjs, chase everyone to bed, do more work stuff, put away that load of laundry, and crash into bed around midnight. Even my weekends look like this (except I sleep until about 7:30 and run errands instead of work). Did you notice I didn’t even get a shower in there? That is because most days I don’t even have time for that. Yesterday the bigger teenagers were with their other parents for Halloween and because I was doing costumes and pumpkins and taking little ones trick or treating, I did not have time to do dishes. That meant that there were about double the dishes and the teen who’s turn it was to do them came into the kitchen grumbling, “I don’t know why you can’t just do the dishes when we are not here”. It occurred to me that not only do they not appreciate what I do (I accepted that years ago), they don’t even think I do anything at all. Ok rant over. I am sure I will get over this by tomorrow and be back to business as usual.

  • Amy-Louise

    Although I would like some praise occasionally my resentment doesn’t necessarily come from that. I feel like I live in groundhog day. I clean up, tidy up or organise something only to turn around and either the other half, kids or dog have destroyed it. Example, I hoovered and mopped all the floors, next minute theres a sloppy mud trail from kitchen sink to back door where kids have been digging and the dog has destroyed a stick in the middle of living room. Cleaned the bathroom, oh comes in covered in filth from fixing his motorbike and leaves a black line round the tub and a thick layer at the bottom. I know they think im moaning but its soul destroying and making me utterly miserable 🙁

  • Magic

    Gretchen, I love your courageous authenticity! I love how you open yourself up to look honestly at that with which you struggle and how you expose your vulnerability to us so we can learn from it. I admire and respect it.

    Oh, and three gold stars to you! *grins*